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Ryan Gets High Marks for First Big Showdown

UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 16: Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., conducts a news conference in the Capitol after a meeting of the House Republican Conference, December 16, 2015. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Ryan is planning ahead for 2016. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

John A. Boehner’s last days as speaker in October were spent, as he said, cleaning out the barn, or cutting legislative deals to help his successor, Paul D. Ryan, get off to a good start.

Now that Ryan is close to passing his first real test as speaker by finishing up 2015’s legislative business, the Wisconsin Republican is laying the groundwork to keep things tidy in 2016.

A budget deal crafted during Boehner’s final days in office will allow House Republicans to pass appropriations bills next year at levels that House Democrats can live with.

Anticipating Senate Democrats could continue to filibuster spending bills as they did this past year, Ryan has started a dialogue with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. in hopes of a smoother process and return to regular order.

Ryan Touts GOP Riders in Spending Bill

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“I think [Reid] too wants to get us back to regular order and that’s why he’s impressed upon me his goal to not block bills coming up to the Senate,” Ryan said at a news conference Wednesday. “Now whether they filibuster a bill coming off the floor because of some rider, I can’t speak to that.”

Under Ryan’s leadership, the Budget Committee, which he used to chair, has already set a schedule for next year so the panel can finish appropriations season earlier than in the past, in keeping with GOP leadership’s new goal of doing everything as soon as it’s viable to avoid eleventh hour scrambles that result in bad deals.

“He is for regular order … that’s not just talk,” Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., said of Ryan. “I am on the Budget Committee; we already have our schedule for the budget next year. We’re gonna finish a month earlier, to get approp[riations] going a month earlier. So that’s good news. That’s in ink. So that’s something that’s for real that he’s doing.”

Another sign of the changing of the guard was Ryan swearing in a new House Chief Administrative Officer, William Plaster, to replace retiring Ed Cassidy, a long-time Boehner loyalist. The CAO ensures the operations of the chamber run smoothly for everyone who comes to work on Capitol Hill each day.

Other members have talked at length about how Ryan is ushering in a new era that prioritizes transparency and communication with the rank and file.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., persona non grata during the Boehner regime, reports he has an open line of communication with the speaker’s office, never having to wonder whether he’ll hear back from a member of Ryan’s staff on any question, large or small. Often, he said, he’ll hear directly from Ryan’s new chief of staff, David Hoppe, or from Ryan himself.

“I’ve had probably more meaningful conversations in the last two to three weeks than the last two or three years with leadership,” Meadows told Roll Call Wednesday.

Conventional wisdom has held that Ryan is getting a honeymoon in the new job and is being given a pass to see through what Boehner started. Of course, lawmakers may feel differently about Ryan as he continues to wrestle with the realities of divided government.

But Republican Study Committee Chairman Bill Flores, R-Texas, said House Republicans have responded well to Ryan’s straight talk, to his focus on tempering expectations and realism about what is achievable.

With the $1.1 trillion omnibus on the House floor by the week’s end, said Flores, Ryan “didn’t set high expectations. And this is not meant to be critical of John Boehner … but before, we would set high expectations. We’d actually set a bill on the floor that had everything we wanted, and we’d all be happy because it was filled with all the good stuff we as conservatives wanted. And then we’d have to slide back down.

“That happened repeatedly,” Flores continued. “And Speaker Ryan has been very careful about being very pragmatic about where we should set our expectations.”

Flores said Boehner’s fixation on having the House “work its will” sometimes created mixed signals for Republicans about their negotiating leverage, and he suggested Boehner could have spelled things out a little more clearly.

But that still doesn’t translate into Ryan getting the votes he needs to pass key pieces of legislation, such as the omnibus scheduled for a final vote Friday.

While members say they appreciate Ryan’s openness, there are plenty of conservatives, like those in the 40-member House Freedom Caucus, who still say they won’t vote for the spending bill.

However, Ryan’s negotiated omnibus isn’t inciting the same level of rage among Republican as was characteristic in spending bills that fell short of conservative demands during the Boehner era.

Meadows suggested a new comfort with leadership’s negotiating style could minimize Republican defections.

“Even though the end result in the omnibus is not really what the people of North Carolina think is a priority,” Meadows said, “it makes you appreciate the process and the person and maybe quietly vote against something instead of advocating against it.”

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